I M M O B I L I S M | a labor of love lost and found (2010-2020)

I wrote these words a long time ago.

In this chapter, I will bring the impressions I gathered in the spaces and places of this system -- in Dora, Cola and the routes that crisscross between and beyond them -- into dialogue with the concerns of the explicitly pro-transit activists I spoke with. By challenging these activist visions with the lessons I gleaned in the field, my aim is not to romanticise this system: buses break down, passengers are delayed, and drivers confront each other, sometimes violently. These confrontations point to broader power differentials between different transit operators and route associations who are locked in seemingly-endless competition over space on the highways, despite negotiations that stabilise the market. This makes the present system a highly stressful and aggressive environment. More broadly still, the system reflects and reproduces -- but also, at times, challenges -- sectarian divides in the city through the day-to-day doing of transport work.

While this can be described as generally neoliberal (Makdisi, 1997; Harb, 2007), in is interesting to note the continuities and discontinuities between Hariri’s policies and pre-war governments. For example, Corm (2012) points out that there are continuities between these neoliberal policies and the laissez-faire system of the early Republic (see section 2.1.1), choosing to refer to Hariri’s politics as “neo-libaniste” (p. 237). Kobaissi (2012) makes a similar argument. Furthermore, though their political orientation towards social security and the free market were diametrically opposed, there are striking similarities between the governing practices of the Shihab and Hariri administrations.

The event as a whole was interesting because it both challenged conventional and/or problematic understandings of the situation in Lebanon, while also reinforcing others. One of the key critiques of the Lebanese government’s traditional approach to the transport sector that was made by Yasmine Mahdi, a transport engineer who opened the conference with a paper titled ‘Traffic conditions: identifying the fundamental issues,’ was to undermine the idea that Lebanon needed new roads to ease traffic congestion: “we have plenty, but we don’t know how to use them.” This is an important critique, as I will discuss in later, when addressing the current policies of the Council of Development and Reconstruction.

I wrote these words in secret, after dark, a long time ago. I hesitated when writing these words.